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Senator’s vision of ‘American way’
He also co-sponsored what he called the “restoration of the Senate’s role in the confirmation of nominees for U.S. attorney vacancies” and introduced a bill “to restore safeguards against political interference at the Justice Department, a policy change adopted by President Bush’s latest attorney general, Michael Mukasey.”
Mr. Whitehouse had some of the Republican hawks up in arms when he tried to expand privacy protections in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) - setting limits on governmental surveillance of Americans - and when he tried to prohibit the U.S. government from using torture as he and fellow Sen. John McCain defined it.
“You get some surprising allegiances,” Mr. Whitehouse says. “Senator John Cornyn, for instance, my fellow former attorney general from Texas, is as strong as any Democrat on freedom of information, and open records, and has put a very strong improvement through the Judiciary Committee.”
Mr. Whitehouse’s liberal pedigree for saying these things is about as pure as it comes. With a bachelor’s degree from Yale and married to a marine biologist who is also an environmental activist, he veered from a perfect Northeastern progressive resume only in taking a law degree from the University of Virginia.
When in 2006 he beat Republican incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee, conservatives were dry-eyed, as they had regarded Mr. Chafee as a “RINO” - Republican In Name Only.
Once safely ensconced in the Senate, Mr. Whitehouse began doing a little selective conspiring on the side with conservative Republicans such as Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All three have been engaged in a mutual search for ways to improve health care, among other things.
For Mr. Whitehouse, the largest acreage for non-ideological cooperation is in trying to fix what he, Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Coburn agree is a broken health care system.
The three senators have teamed up to push the federal government to lift its prohibition against doctors electronically prescribing controlled substances - a prohibition they say is a significant barrier to widespread “e-prescribing” and health information technology.
“Billion-dollar transactions are done electronically,” Mr. Whitehouse says. “Highly classified national-security information travels electronically. Military attack aircraft are targeted electronically. So don’t tell me we can’t figure out a way for a doctor to prescribe Vicodin electronically.”
Agreeing on new ways to finance health care as a way of fixing it is another matter. He admits to wide disagreement with, at the conservative end, relying on tax-free health-savings accounts - what he calls “a dog-eat-dog” solution - and at the other end, the ultimate dream for some liberals of a single-payer system run by the government, “with health care that everybody shares,” as he puts it.
He says in between those extremes are legislation by Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Robert F. Bennett , Utah Republican, and bills by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat and presumptive presidential nominee.
For many conservatives all these schemes smack of statism. Limited-government champions tend to regard only the private health-savings accounts as safe from what they see as the fatal error of having the government choose winners and losers and direct the flow of investments.
Mr. Whitehouse says he understands and respects such concerns and also acknowledges that conservatives can latch onto policies that set his teeth grinding - though discreetly, of course.
He calls them “flame-thrower issues - gay marriage, abortion and - at the extreme - gun rights. Then there are other issues where liberals and conservatives have very divergent views and a lot of extremism - but also a lot of room to maneuver in the middle.”
Immigration is a good example, says Mr. Whitehouse, who also was a U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration.
About the Author
Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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